A welcome revolution is coming to television advertisers. The continued digitization of TV will give brands more control over how and where advertisements appear and will provide increasingly precise and actionable performance measurements. To truly take advantage of this revolution, brands must first address the growing need for shorter and uniquely formatted creative, which are being driven by radically changing audience viewing habits.
To fully understand the digitization of TV, however, brands should first look to online video. Video ad campaigns delivered online give advertisers the ability to understand who is watching, how much of it they are watching, and how different creative and format types are impacting viewer engagement. These actionable insights provide brands the opportunity to get an immediate and accurate snapshot of campaign performance, and develop more effective creative based on viewer behavior and needs.
This real-time easy-to-measure and easy-to-optimize approach is dramatically different than that taken by broadcast television, which targets the same mass of viewers with the same TV commercials-over and over again. In the past 60 years, enormous dollar amounts have been spent trying to get brand messages across to TV viewers without any real understanding or proof of ROI. The deep and detailed measurement provided by digital media contrast sharply with the "finger in the wind" estimates historically provided for TV.
What will brands get out of the coming sea of change? For one thing, control: Before TV digitization, the entire traffic process was controlled by TV and cable companies. Advertisers sent their creative to CBS or NBC and the network took over from there. Where the advertisement was delivered was largely out of a brand's hands. In contrast, with digital video, brands can take advantage of the mediums that serve the online market and gain back this control.
With the emergence of digital TV and the maturation of digital media also comes the ability to easily move assets between platforms -- from mobile to online to TV, and back again. This creates ample opportunity for reusing creative if it's deemed successful, providing the ability to synchronize campaigns across channels, and ensuring a greater level of message consistency while comparing performance across mediums.
These are the knowns about the digitization of TV. What's unknown at this point is how the mix of traditional players, new entrants and rapidly changing audience viewing habits will affect brand advertising in the space.
For starters, the TV model has achieved a high level of success, despite being plagued by vague measurement. Rating and measurement companies like Nielsen and even comScore will change at a much slower pace, waiting first for new entrants and new technologies to prove themselves as serious competitive threats.
In the meantime, online content owners are redefining"TV" and how it is watched. Netflix recently purchased the rights to a new 26-episode TV series, "House of Cards" starring Kevin Spacey, turning the subscription-based, Internet-streaming movie leader into a content developer. The growing influence of non-traditional companies on digital TV programming will amplify the need for brands to have direct insight into the kind of creative that resonates with viewers.
Another major trend affecting brand advertising: the decline of live TV viewing - thanks in part to players like Netflix and in part to time-shifting viewing through DVR technology. Viewers are developing a fondness for "binge viewing," in which they watch several episodes of a TV show at one sitting, instead of checking in week after week for new episodes. Additionally, viewers are flocking to online video. According to comScore Video Metrix, 174 million U.S. Internet users watched an average of 14 hours of online video in March 2011.
All of these trends will trigger changes in how brands address and attract audiences. TV ads will likely need to be shorter, mirroring what works online. Brands will need to speak to an online audience that expects immediate gratification, a high level of interactivity and the ability to socialize content.
The only way for advertisers to determine what approach works best in the new digital TV landscape is to jump into the water and start swimming. The biggest and savviest brands in TV advertising have already realized the benefits of the intelligence they can gather from online and mobile video, and they will be among the first to expect the same insight from their TV ad spend.
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